I imagine a lot of you might feel the way I do right now about political ads. They’re relentless and the cost must be phenomenal. Enough already! I was amusing myself the other day thinking what would happen if George Washington or Abraham Lincoln had the ability to be seen by millions on HD TV. Would we be interested in Washington’s politics once we were confronted with his wooden smile. According to historians he had teeth made out of wood. How did that affect his breath? His prominent nose would have been discussed and his attire would have been assessed by the fashionista. Lincoln, who appears to always have a scowl on his face, would have been lampooned for not looking positive and upbeat. Who wants a president who was exceedingly tall, depressed and once again wearing ill-fitting clothes? In a recent article in Scientific American , called Politically Irrational, the author Michael Shermer asks these two critical questions “Who looks more competent, Barack Obama, or Mitt Romney?”, who has the deepest and most resonant voice?” Maybe your answer is “who cares?” However, we are living in an era where a vast array of technology is available and it has the power to influence our decisions on a subconscious level. Higher pitched voices are judged to be more nervous, less truthful and less empathic than lower-pitched voices. Individuals who speak faster, louder, and have greater variation in volume, lead people to judge someone to be energetic, intelligent, and knowledgeable. Looks matter even more and so do facial expressions. If we perceive the individual to look silly, our trust factor diminishes. Likewise a dour expression. Consider the differences between Kennedy and Nixon. Kennedy was always tanned, had an athletic demeanor, and seemed filled with enthusiasm. Nixon on the other hand often appeared haggard and pale. Both men had characteristics that could be parodied by comedians, but somehow I always felt Nixon fared more poorly. I have no agenda or ax to grind by writing the above, I simply think that it might be worthwhile for all of us to recognize that public relations firms are a huge part of campaigns today. They coach and advise candidates how to look and act. It’s up to us to try to override these influences and engage in voting for the issues instead of the façade.
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